Are self portraits narcissistic?

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During Sue Bryce fine art workshop, where I photographed a self-portrait in front of the internet audience, someone asked an interesting question : Do you think people will judge you as being a very self centered person? 

I was really surprised by the question, because I never thought of myself like this. I answered that the people who know me won’t think that because they know I am not like that at all. The people who will judge me badly obviously don’t know anything about  me, so I don’t really care what they think. 

I did not start taking self-portrait because I wanted to show my face: I started to take self-portrait because I needed to learn photography! I experimented a lot (and I am still now) and I didn’t want to bother a model everyday. I could have someone once in a week, but not exactly when I wanted, not in the middle of the night, not even in the day when everyone else was working in their daily job. So I started to take pictures of myself. And I realized I had A LOT of things that I wanted to tell in my pictures, and it was my story, so it had to be me in the pictures (maybe not but this is the way I feel). So this is how I started my « self-portrait therapy ». I never stopped, even when I feel like « I am getting to old for this » (slap me, I KNOW) or some day when I just feel like crap and I don’t want to see more of myself.

One of my first self-portrait back in 2014. I remember it as a fun afternoon playing with speedlights in my kitchen while my housemates were at work!

One of my first self-portrait back in 2014. I remember it as a fun afternoon playing with speedlights in my kitchen while my housemates were at work!

Because, yes, when you take a self-portrait, trust me, you can see your flaws. Like all of them, even some that you were not aware even existed! So, trust me it’s not narcissism, because there is no one harder on yourself than yourself. 

So I started to ask myself, it this a normal thing to take self portraits?

What I think is REALLY INTERESTING, is that from all times, artists always represented themselves: there are numerous self portraits in the History of Art, and this, for A LONG TIME (like ancient Egypt paintings and sculptures, ancient Greek vases, etc). Although, it’s really around the European Renaissance (XVth century) that artists really started experimenting with this technique. They are many reasons for self portraits, and one of them was the artist could not afford to pay for a model: we can imagine painting could take weeks and even months, so it was cheaper to buy a mirror and to learn the techniques and train by themselves. (something familiar here mmh). 

Rembrandt is really famous for his dozens of self portraits, and he painted himself all life long. I love his paintings (the guy invented a new way of seeing light, that’s something!)), he is not being easy on him, he represents himself as an old man, and we can feel the texture on his skin and the weight of the years. And I don’t think anyone told him he was being narcissistic, for sure! 

Rembrandt, Self Portrait with Beret and Turned-Up Collar, 1659.

Rembrandt, Self Portrait with Beret and Turned-Up Collar, 1659.

There were dozens of artists who played with self-portraits, you can check their work if your are curious about the subject: among them Picasso, of course Van Gogh, Gustave Courbet, Goya, Degas, Delacroix, Renoir, Matisse, etc etc. 

One of my favorite self portrait of all time is from Frida Kahlo : she is a Mexican painter, and had an accident that handicapped her all her life. She had a mirror installed on her bed, just above her, and she painted self portraits. I think she has a really cruel and hard vision of herself, and is she is not representing herself as « beautiful » . She represents her pain and story. (if you haven’t watched the movie about her life, go see it, it’s really great!).

Frida Kahlo, The Broken Column, 1944.

Frida Kahlo, The Broken Column, 1944.

I think we are living on a culture where pictures are everywhere, and selfies are just a norm: we are judging girls who takes a lot of selfies, we feel that there is something narcissistic about that, and we don’t really understand the limits between selfies and self-portrait. I mean, even Kim Kardashian has a book of selfies, so is this becoming a new form of art? Or was it always there? Interestingly enough, the first photographic portrait that was ever taken was a self portrait. 

Robert Cornelius, 1839 (!!)

Robert Cornelius, 1839 (!!)

So I would say to conclude (I could talk for hours on the topic), if you hesitate about doing self portraits: DON’T HESITATE. Just do it, people won’t judge you, it’s normal as a creator to explore different things, and self portraits are a great great way to experiment. Plus, if you don’t like the pictures, remember no one has to see them in the end, you only share what you really want to share. 

Bonus : you really needed Andy Warhol self portraits shot with Polaroid films in your day. Don’t ask me why, I just know it  :)


how to self critic your photographs while you are retouching them

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So that’s it : you photograph this really cool picture, you just spent three hours retouching it, and you don’t know what to think about it anymore. Is it good? Is it bad? NO IDEA, you are still hesitating not knowing  if you are a genius who created the masterpiece of the century or if you need to burn your house so the world doesn’t see this abomination! What you know though is that the picture makes no sense anymore, just like a word you repeated too often (That actually happens to me quite often with my photographs!)

This feeling is perfectly normal! (I think) So here are some tips on what I am doing personally to self critic my work, before even showing it to anyone : 

- “Squinching” my eyes so I am blurring the picture I am looking at :

I do it all the time : it allows you really simply to get rid of all the details, to see if the composition of the picture still makes sense. You also have to know to know that your eyes are attracted to the brightest part of a picture : are there too much bright elements on the picture? not enough? a bright part that is catching your attention while it’s not a point we should be focusing on? 

- Take some distance LITTERALY :

I will always put my picture on full screen, get up from my seat, and look at my picture from the other side of the room. I have a 27 inches screen, so it allows me to see it how it would look on a wall if it was a print this size. In a museum, you usually experience a print or a painting from a distance and then you go closer to check the details. If you stay just glued to your screen you will never experience this perspective! 

- Check how it looks on your phone, very small :

I will always ALWAYS screenshot my work even when it is still in progress, and send the picture so I can see it on my phone. (I am sending a message to myself with the picture through Facebook messenger, it’s probably not the best way to do it, but it is simple!) Same here, you are working on a big screen, so you want to see how the picture will look 57 times smaller. Is it worth spending 2 more hours on details? How is the composition? What part of the picture attract your eye? I have at least 4 or 5 version of my “work in progress” pictures on my phone

- Take a break :

You need to come back to your work with some fresh eyes, a fresh mind, and something might jump into your face!

Now that you are happy, you think you’ve done a great job, the composition works, everything looks damn fine to you :

I know you are all excited and you want to share your masterpiece to the world but please GO TO SLEEP (that’s also the moment I recheck the screenshots on my phone!) 

You’ve probably heard about this thing called retinal persistance, or persistance of vision : due to being exposed to light or the same color for a long time, we keep an image that is just like printed in our vision. You can totally see what I mean when you have a flashlight in your eyes and you see a square of light for a few seconds. This thing also occurs when you are retouching your pictures for a long time. So for example, you do your thing, you are quite happy about it, you post it and then it’s the morning : and you realize that DAMN IT’S SO BLUE!! You didn’t see this picture looked WAY too blue the night before because you’ve got used to the color and your eyes compensated for too much blue. But now this is the only thing that you can see!! 

So I will always finish a picture, and the day after I will always have some adjustments to make. ALWAYS. I feel that you can’t skip tho one if you want to get better at color correction. 

All of them are about to change perspective, they are about making tiny adjustments that will make your photograph just perfect. So you are just so proud about it!

I also want to add that the more you will create, the more you will see and be able to judge your work! This is a picture I shot 5 years ago, it is one of my first self portrait ever. I didn’t realize it was SO YELLOW at that time. The skin tone is just so so wrong! Now this is the only thing I can see! So I adjusted it so you can compare how my vision changed and got more subtle :)

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Which one is your favorite picture? Can you judge your work, and other people work easily or do you need more help on this? Tell me EVERYTHING!

My 10 favorite ways to find creative ideas

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Inspiration IS a big deal for creative people, especially when it’s not there. Everyone has this misconception that artists are really inspired people by nature, that they get this genius lightning of magical ideas coming from nowhere that make them create awesome stuff. Sorry to disappoint but the only secret is that it’s mostly A LOT of work! And I am pretty sure any random person can have awesome ideas if they put some effort in this. So the best way to start is to actively look for ideas. I was lucky enough to meet Ben Harper and I remember him saying that he would sit and write music everyday. He is not waiting to be magically inspired out of thin air, he is not picking his guitar because he is in the right mood : he is picking it everyday, just like any other job, he puts a lot of hard work in this. Most musicians write 100 songs to get a 10 tracks album! So don’t feel discouraged if everything you do is not perfect, that’s just normal, but at least doing it gets you on the right track and leave plenty of room for improvements! 

First thing first : Take the time to actually write down the ideas! Write, them, sketch them, put them on paper, get a fancy notebook, a crappy piece of blank paper, anything, but DO IT. My most prolific times are when I actually force myself to sit with nothing but a blank page and a pen that I find most ideas coming to my mind!

I have SO MANY of these laying around everywhere!

I have SO MANY of these laying around everywhere!

Sometimes it is not that easy, so here are some tips and triggers that I personally use on a daily basis for fresh ideas (and I am almost sorry to say this does not any drugs or alcool  )

  • Friends

Spend some time and team up with other creative people, brainstorm with your creative friends : make up artists, illustrators, designers they surely have a cool project ongoing and they will be more happy to have pictures of it at some point! Book an afternoon with them, everyone brings food, drinks, ideas, and enjoy this moment! 

  • Music

I will lay on the floor with my headphones and listen to music (which must be a weird sight from outside), just letting go and creating a whole world in my head (bonus point if you have musician friends who constantly inspires you so they have cool pictures for their marketing!) Going to concert is awesome! Live music is the best because you can feel the energy of the band and the public around you. 

  • Feelings

Your own emotion at the moment (the crappiest the more inspiring, sad but true  ) : how would you visually represent this feeling? Bonus point here because letting it out is always better for your mental health 

  • Find a muse!

Someone you can shoot who complete you artistically, someone who makes you want to create and allows you to express your art, someone who share your vision and respect it! He/she could be a model, a dancer, your lover, a burlesque artist, a performer, a comedian, even just a random person that you are attracted to for some reason, anyone! PUT HIM NAKED AND SHOOT HIM (ask for consent thought) Many designers have had muses they created uniques pieces for, and artist are painting their favorite model endlessly, because they always had a new story to tell about this person. 

  • Pinterest

I have a huuuge pinterest board that I love browsing from time to time for visual references, it’s a great mood board. It’s very personal but you can check it out if you are curious. I pin everything and not photography related stuff, it’s a lot of contemporary art mostly

  • Going OUT

Exhibitions, looking at art with your own eyes is pretty different than just checking it on the internet (it would be the same as watching a movie streaming on your phone VS going to the theatre!) 

  • Try a new technique

A new light something new, experimenting with gels? Get a new backdrop? Mixing real paint on top of a picture? Experiment with dry ice? Hell yeah! Go a bit crazy! I think it’s the only time I will look for inspiration into other photographer’s work. I often see copies of copies of pictures, and I feel our work is much stronger when we define our own concepts, when we build our own references outside of our industry. That is what will make our work somewhat unique, and truly reflecting our creative identity. 

  • Reading a book/ stories, go see a movie

Just like music, it’s all about training our imagination and our creative eye. How did you imagine this really nice paragraph you just read? expand your own world, feed your mind.

  • Go for a walk in nature

If I spend a lot of time in my studio I get trapped into my own mind. Getting some fresh air definitly brings fresh ideas! (And I am writing this with frozen hands from my phone in a park so it does work!)

  • Location / travelling

You went to a new place that is so cool you absolutely want to go back there and shoot! Going to a new city, visit new country, immerse yourself in a new culture is great to get surprised and excited again!


if you are really stuck and your mood is not for creativity, it can happen : learn to rest and to let go for a while. Do something you would never do usually, sometimes you have less pressure to deliver something you don’t HAVE to be good at : For example My illustrator friend Camille takes pictures of flowers and random stuff to get ideas for drawings, my musician friend Maxime had no ideas for new songs so he spent a lot of his time writing a novel (I admit, some people are extreme  ) One day I bought some modeling clay and spent the night trying to do a skull. The result was awful but I had fun :p